It’s the election nobody expected, and which the hard-brexiteers are still trying to stop. But the UK will almost certainly go to the polls on 23 May to choose our Members of the European Parliament, or MEPs. The election was required by the EU as a condition of extending the Brexit deadline, and thus our continued membership of the EU.
Yes, you read that right. The EU has forced us to have more democracy, and the Tory government has been fighting to have less. They didn’t put that on the side of a bus, did they?
How long those newly-elected MEPs remain in Brussels and Strasbourg remains to be seen. Theresa May has been given until Hallowe’en to agree the terms of withdrawal, but it’s currently hard to see what will break the deadlock.
Here in Edinburgh, the most pro-European city in the UK, 74% of us voted to remain in the EU back in the 2016 referendum. Add in the 50,000 residents from other EU states, who were prevented from voting in that referendum, and you have a city which is 80% behind staying in the EU. In anyone’s books that’s an overwhelming majority.
So I’m sure that many people will wish to ensure, as I do, that in electing our MEPs to do a job, we should be electing them for the full five years of their term, as intended. So they can work together as ‘Team Scotland’ standing up for Scotland’s interests in Brussels, and working co-operatively with MEPs from across the continent to make people’s lives better. That means international and cross-border action to tackle the climate emergency, improving workers’ rights and building a fairer Europe. That’s what our MEPs could be doing.
Instead, Theresa May and the Brexiteers want to call them back after just a few months, to lose Scotland’s voice in Europe and our say over the political direction of our continent. My colleague, Green councillor Melanie Main, disclosed in answer to a question in the council chamber last week, that the cost of running the European elections is over £1m in Edinburgh alone. Across the whole UK it is up to £140m. If we’re investing this much in democratic elections, surely it makes sense that our MEPs serve their full five years? Spending so much money on elections merely to turn our backs a few months later makes no sense.
I think there’s another way forward. Greens want to see this deeply discredited Brexit scrapped, and instead for Scotland to continue to play a full part in this great family of nations. Greens want to stand up for the European ideal of forging bonds of peace and friendship across our continent that was, within the lifetime of many readers, riven by war and conflict. We want to use our voice in Europe to stand up for hope, not hate. To welcome people who come here to live, work and study and the amazing contribution they make to our society.
And to lead bold, urgent international action to tackle climate change. To drive forward a Green New Deal here in Scotland, to invest in renewables and energy efficiency, to tackle fuel poverty, while at the same time creating thousands of well-paid secure jobs. Nothing better compels government to take that action than Green votes in 3 weeks time.
So I believe our forthcoming European elections should be the start of the next phase in our relationship with Europe, not the end of our engagement with the rest of the continent. We have a vision of Scotland at the heart of Europe. If you share that vision, please choose hope over hate, on 23 May.
Chas Booth is Green councillor for Leith and a Scottish Green Party candidate in the European elections on 23 May.
This blog was first published by the Edinburgh Evening News on 6 May 2019